Nathan Adrian is the quintessential American Olympic athlete. A four-time Olympic medalist, Nathan swam in his first Olympics at the age of nineteen and walked away from the 2008 Beijing Games with a gold medal. This summer, the Cal Bear alum participated in the London 2012 Olympics and earned one silver medal and two gold medals for Team USA. Adrian, who typically swims in Olympic relay races, won his first individual gold this summer in the 100 free and also swam in Michael Phelps’ final Olympic race. Adrian graciously took time out of his busy schedule to sit for an exclusive phone interview with Hercampus.com to talk about his Olympic successes and his experience as a student athlete.
Though Adrian has encountered much success during his swimming career, he continues to stay humble and is incredibly grateful for his wins. As a swimmer and world-class competitor, he believes it is incredibly important to “stay calm and keep a clear head” before every race. He says that he “has been rehearsing and practicing his specific races for so long that any external thoughts could throw him off.” Thus, he tries to “keep a clear mind,” and remember that each race is “a matter of executing everything [he] had practiced.”
Adrian says his thought process would be the same, regardless of who is racing next to him.
Adrian has a very contemplative view towards racing and “doesn’t necessarily race to beat anybody or try to only get first.” He believes each race is about “self-improvement and trying to do the best I could do at the time.” For instance, he says that even if he had not medaled but had still managed to get a best time, he “would have felt a sense of satisfaction knowing that I had gone through this process for the last four years of trying to improve myself and [knowing that] it had finally paid off.”
For Adrian, the Olympics are not just about the competition. While he says that the most memorable part of the Olympics was “the process of winning gold,” he thinks “something that’s sidelined and not necessarily talked about enough is [the] team chemistry that we have as Team USA.”
According to Adrian, there are about fifty people on the Olympic team — half of whom are rookies. Even the more experienced swimmers, however, do not necessarily train together, and thus may not be incredibly close at first, though that later changes.
“You move through the process of going to a training camp and then to the actual Olympics, you become so incredibly close to [your teammates] that they become like your family members,” Adrian said.
Adrian finds this process very enjoyable and likes learning “the intricacies of another person — another competitor — and earning life-long friends.” As evidence of these friendships, Adrian pointed out that Matt Grevers, a fellow Team USA swimmer and Adrian’s Olympic Village roommate, had just called him and asked Adrian if he wanted to be an usher at his wedding, something he“was so honored by and thought was really cool.”
Of course, Adrian is much more than a world-class athlete — he’s a recent college grad!
While Adrian said it was tough balancing his athletic and academic responsibilities, he believes his success “came down to being able to compartmentalize [his] time.” Adrian truly believes in time management and organization and says that when he was a student, he would have to “organize his classes in such a structure that [he] could take naps, because if he didn’t have the ability to nap, he would sleep in every single class.” [pagebreak]
He also said that one of the keys to academic success was being efficient. For example, if he did not need to use the Internet for a homework assignment, he would “turn off [his] wireless [connection]” so he could avoid online distractions. Adrian’s focus and commitment have really paid off and have helped him graduate with Honors from Berkeley with a degree in Public Health.
Adrian, who recently had a street named after him in his hometown of Bremerton, Washington, says he will continue to train at Cal this year.
“[Cal has] such a great set up and great coaches and facilities,” Adrian said.
He also opened up about his experiences on campus. Adrian said that on a typical day, he wakes up at 5:10, goes to practice for two hours, comes back home to eat and nap, and then goes back to campus for his second practice of the day. According to Nathan, he’s often approached on his way to his second practice and since he’s wearing his workout clothing and looks like he just rolled out of bed, is often asked “oh man, did you sleep in today?”
For Adrian, sleeping in may actually be a foreign concept.
“I often wake up so early, I can’t actually sleep in past 8 o’clock,” Adrian said. “I’m just like, man, I wish I could sleep in until 10 or 11 even, but my body just physically won’t let me sleep in that late.”
While Adrian would have to wake up early in high school, he said he started his intense morning wake-ups when he first came to Berkeley and has grown accustomed to the swimmer’s schedule.
While Adrian will continue to stay on the West Coast, he has made a few trips to New York City.
As a Fordham University student and thus New Yorker, I felt obligated to ask Nathan about his favorite parts of New York City. Adrian said he really enjoyed “exploring all of the subtleties that make New York so cool.” Adrian once visited a very cool Mexican-infused restaurant in the city. He said that when he first walked into the restaurant, he thought he was in a normal diner. He then walked down a set of stairs and was surprised to see a “crazy fancy Mexican infusion restaurant.”
“You would have never have guessed that this amazing restaurant is below a casual diner,” Adrian said.
Although Adrian is a hard worker and is incredibly committed to swimming, he also makes time to connect both to his fans and to philanthropic organizations. Adrian is very active on Twitter and uses his account as a medium to interact with his fans.
“It’s fun to have that interaction,” Adrian said. “If I can do something as small as a Tweet that takes me a matter of seconds and can brighten up somebody’s day, I don’t see why I shouldn’t spend five minutes a day or five minutes every other day doing something like that.”
It is this very attitude that has made Adrian so popular and has helped Nathan gain legions of worldwide fans.
Nathan is also involved with Right to Play USA, an organization that according to its website, seeks “to improve the lives of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace.”
He said he first heard about the organization in 2008 when Natalie Coughlin made a presentation about Right to Play to the Olympic Team, and decided to become involved because he was interested in learning about the organization. He also said he might return to New York later this year for a Right to Play event.
So, what’s next for Nathan Adrian? No doubt, Adrian will encounter many more successes in the upcoming years and his star will shine even brighter. For now, Adrian says that while he gets invited to many international meets, his main competitions occur every summer. This summer, Adrian will participate in the Long Course Championships. He will also attend a Pan-Pacific Championship and a World Championship in the following years.
Adrian’s mind then quickly turns to the Rio and 2016.
“And then, just like that, the Olympics roll around again,” Adrian said. “It’s just crazy how short four years can really be.”